New figures reveal higher levels of net immigration
Net immigration to the UK increased to 237,000 in 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics.
That is 46,000 more than in 2006 - as a result of emigration falling faster than immigration.
The figures also show the number of people registering for work in the UK from eastern European countries such as Poland and Latvia declined.
But asylum applications were up 12% between July and October this year - the fifth consecutive increase.
The figures mean that the population has grown by 1.8 million because of immigration since Labour came to power in 1997.
The figures suggest the UK population was just under 61 million last year.
Immigration minister Phil Woolas - who sparked controversy last month by suggesting the UK population could be limited to 70 million - said the latest figures painted a "complicated" picture but he was "pleased with the overall trend". He predicted net immigration would fall below 200,000 in next year's figures.
"I think the serious trend is showing that there are less British people leaving Britain to go and perhaps live in Spain and elsewhere and the numbers coming into the country have also gone down," he told the BBC.
"And that's before we take into account the effect of Polish people returning back to Poland to work in their own economies."
He said that "people worried about an increase in the population can be reassured when you look into these figures" and he claimed the government's new points-based migration system, which comes into effect on 27 November, would mean the UK population would not soar in the way previously predicted.
"With the points based system we can control the increase and the 70 million figure will become a fantasy," said Mr Woolas.
But the Conservatives - who want an annual limit on immigration from outside the EU - said the figures showed immigration was out of control.
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: "Immigration can be of real benefit to the country but only if it is properly controlled.
"These figures betray a government that has completely lost control over the last 10 years. This chaos is likely to increase as the home secretary and new immigration minister continue to be at loggerheads over government policy.
"The government should stop squabbling and adopt our policies of an annual limit on non-EU immigration, transitional controls on future EU immigration and establishing a dedicated UK border police force."
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "The substantial benefits of immigration are being undermined by Government incompetence, which has shattered public confidence in the system.
"These figures deal only with legal migration, but the truth is ministers have no idea how many illegal immigrants are living in Britain. Since the Tories and Labour abolished exit checks, we cannot know who is leaving the country. All immigration figures are guesstimates as a result."
Former Labour minister Frank Field, who has called for a new tougher cross-party approach, said: "Today's figures will come as a shock to ministers. Net migration is much higher than expected. This means immigration has directly added a million people to the UK's population in just the past five years.
"Unless firm action is taken very soon, our population will hit 70 million even earlier than the Government's present forecast of 2028. There is no way in which our public services can cope with such a rapid increase."
But Danny Sriskandarajah of the Institute for Public Policy Research said many critics were missing the point by focusing on 2007's figures.
"The real story is that there are already signs that immigration is starting to slow in 2008," said Dr Sriskandarajah.
"Scaremongerers who spread panic about immigration fuelling population growth to 70 million fall into the trap of thinking that the next decade will look just like the last.
"Migration ebbs and flows over time. Immigration boomed when the economy was booming and is likely to slow naturally as the economy slows. If previous recessions are anything to go by, we may end up losing more people than we gain."
Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK said his organisation's research indicated the opposite: "These figures for 2007 do not take account of the impending recession," he said.
"But the history of previous recessions is that their effect is only temporary. After a couple of years immigration has invariably resumed its upward path."
According to the ONS figures, emigration was down sharply from 2006 when 400,000 people left the country, mostly to live in Australia, New Zealand, Spain or France.
An estimated 340,000 people of all backgrounds left the UK for twelve months or more in 2007.
The estimated number of people arriving to live in the UK for twelve months or more was 577,000 in 2007, compared with 591,000 in 2006.
The figures suggest fewer people are coming to work in the UK from Eastern Europe, with 21,000 fewer applications for work between July and September, compared with the same period in 2006.
There were 6,620 asylum applications between July and September this year, compared with 5,885 in the same quarter last year.
Over the 12 months to the end of September 2008, there were 25,800 asylum applications, a 15% rise on the numbers for the preceding 12 months.
There has also been a rise in the number of people removed from the UK, with more than 17,500 ejected between July and September, 9% up on the same period last year.
Although it has risen, net immigration is still slightly lower than the record figure of 244,000, reached in 2004.
Polish citizens made up the largest single national group of immigrants, with 96,000 coming to the UK in 2007.